September 2, 2013

Needles City Council reiterates objection to water project

Needles Desert Star

NEEDLES — In a split vote, city council members approved sending a copy of an earlier letter stating their opposition to the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project to several more recipients.

There was some confusion during the Aug. 27 meeting as to who received that first letter, which was sent about a year ago. The letter, which stated the council’s disapproval of the project, was sent to Cadiz and was included in the environmental impact report being completed at the time.

Council member Tom Darcy wanted to have that same letter disbursed to additional people. His motion included sending the letter to state senators, San Bernardino County Supervisor Robert Lovingood and to government officials in Sacramento.

Lesley Thornburg, operations manager for Cadiz, Inc., gave a presentation regarding the Cadiz water project to council in the Aug. 27 meeting. She spoke on various elements of the project Cadiz has planned and the benefits it will have for the area.

Thornburg gave background regarding Cadiz. The company was founded in 1983 and owns 45,000 acres of land. They also have water rights in three San Bernardino County locations.

They’ve been farming on their land for 20 years and farm organic grapes, citrus and other types of crops, she said. The focus of the presentation was the water project.

She said the phase I portion of the project is completely approved, having completed the California Environmental Quality Act. The next steps include complete construction of a well field, natural gas power resource and solar facilities.

Cadiz plans to construct a 43-mile buried pipeline to the Colorado River aqueduct within an Arizona-California Railroad right of way. They would deliver, on average, 50,000 acre-feet of water annually to providers over a 50-year period that’s subject to a management plan, she said.

Thornburg said it will be a new reliable source for more than 100,000 families every year. Water users in six counties, including San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and Imperial, would all receive water. The largest portion would stay in San Bernardino County, she continued.

Thornburg also discussed various projected benefits of the project. She claimed there will be many benefits to the community, including stimulation of the local economy, reduction of demands on Colorado River water, creation of just under 6,000 jobs and will mean about $6 million in tax revenue. Of that, about $600,000 will go to the school district, she continued.

Tom Henderson, project lead for the hydrology portion, also spoke. He reviewed elements of the project. He explained how all the rigorous measuring and testing corroborated the recharge that’s estimated.

He said Cadiz knew there would be questions about the recharge, they also did a variety of “what if” situations and modeled them. There was no significance impact found in any of those scenarios, he added.

Henderson also pointed out the project did get CEQA certified and CEQA is the most stringent environmental law in the U.S. No problems were found with the project, he added.

He said there are several early warning features set up to evaluate the response of the project to actual pumping and if not acting as predicted, the project would be adjusted.

It’s not optional, he said. San Bernardino County will regulate and provide oversight.

Darcy expressed several concerns about the project, including concerns about water being sent to Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Other council members echoed his comments, making statements of how those counties need to find other ways to serve their residents.

Additional concerns centered on how much water is proposed to be pumped and the potential negative impacts if there isn’t recharge. Council members generally agreed that sending another letter to show their continued disapproval of the project is needed.

Terry Campbell, council member, said he doesn’t approve of the project, but he also didn’t agree with sending another letter. “Have you really thought what you’re asking for?” he asked.

Campbell said the problem with a letter is that it may encourage federal government to step in and would possibly mean taking away private citizens’ property rights, which isn’t right. He felt it best to not take any action, he added.

There were additional comments made regarding previous situations where property rights were taken away and the possible negative impacts of the project. Sending a copy of the original letter to more representatives won out for the night.